Cutting cable TV is certainly a forward-thinking move, but controlling your streaming TV device by voice is even more futuristic. Using voice commands can be a lot faster than fiddling with a remote, and with smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, you don't even need to use your hands. Still, not all streaming devices are on the same level when it comes to voice control. In the interest of sorting it all out, here's a rundown of everything you can and can't do, sorted by streaming platform: Not every Roku player has voice controls built into its remote, but for those that do, you can hit the microphone button to control playback, launch apps, search for things to watch, and launch music from Pandora, iHeartRadio, or TuneIn. Roku's biggest limitation is its inability to launch specific TV shows, movies, or live channels with voice alone.
Shortly after setting up Amazon's Fire TV Cube streaming box, I temporarily lost the remote control. In theory, this shouldn't have been a problem. Amazon says its $120 Fire TV Cube is primarily a hands-free device that you can control with Alexa voice commands, and I knew Alexa would at least let me turn on the TV, control the volume, and start watching video in apps like Amazon Prime Video and PlayStation Vue without needing the remote. Still, it didn't take long with my Fire TV Cube review unit to uncover voice control's many blind spots. While the hardware does a fine job of recognizing voice commands, Alexa often fails at searching for content, is inconsistent at controlling video playback, and doesn't yet work with a large number of apps.
Amazon's Fire TV is currently the best streaming box for most people, thanks to its clever interface and powerful voice search features. The current Fire TV only supports 4K video, not 4K HDR like some rival streaming boxes. And if you look across the entire streaming device landscape, we've seen plenty of innovations that would be ripe for Amazon's picking. I've been thinking about what a third-generation Fire TV box might look like ever since AFTVNews reported a couple weeks ago on a rumored mid-tier Fire TV device--possibly a souped-up streaming stick--with 4K HDR support. I can't imagine Amazon would let its flagship streamer fall behind in video resolution, so I suspect a new Fire TV box is also on the way.
If you can control your TV by voice instead, why wouldn't you? To that end, Google and Amazon now offer hands-free TV controls through their respective connected speakers. Both combos allow you to launch videos, pause, play, rewind, and fast forward without ever touching a remote control. At least that's how it works in theory. With Alexa devices such as the Amazon Echo, voice control works for all Fire TV products.
The Fire TV Stick 4K is the media streamer that Amazon should have released years ago. Cooler than a Roku and much cheaper than an Apple TV, the new $50 streaming dongle offers 4K HDR video in every conceivable format while outperforming Amazon's more expensive Fire TV Cube ($120) and third-generation Fire TV ($70, now discontinued). It also corrects the stupidest mistake of previous Fire TV models by including TV volume and power controls on its remote control. Factor in powerful Alexa voice commands and you have a compelling 4K HDR streamer at any price, let alone the lowest price on the market. The Fire TV Stick 4K won't be for everyone.